John Beilein must feel like a proud papa.
With six days of practice in the books after team workouts officially began last Friday, the Michigan men’s basketball coach has already seen his experienced players doing their part to help the wide-eyed freshmen — one of the biggest tasks in the early going.
Beilein now has the luxury of an experienced roster. It’s a far cry from last year, when the rebuilding Wolverines entered the season with no seniors and six first-year players, most of whom were expected to be needed on a team believed to lack firepower.
This season, the task is less onerous. Three scholarship freshmen are joining the roster, and two — freshmen guards Trey Burke and Carlton Brundidge — will likely be counted on to help fill the void left by Darius Morris, who left for the NBA. Forward Max Bielfeldt might also be called upon for some added muscle down low.
But Michigan has plenty of other players who now have experience, and they’re helping the new guys through their growing pains.
“We’ve had incredible teachers right now,” Beilein said. “This is a good problem to have — we have too many people talking in the huddle.
“I had missed something in film that (senior guard Stu Douglass) picked up and said, ‘Coach, can you show that one time?’ and then he said, ‘Carlton, that’s what I was talking about.’ That’s so good to have, so we’ll take this any time. “
It probably helps, too, that the freshmen don’t have a choice but to adapt quickly. Senior guard Zack Novak said open gyms this past summer were the most competitive in his four years, since having so many quality players meant that if you didn’t perform, you had to sit out.
The freshmen got a taste of the intensity of college basketball with those workouts. With the start of organized practices, they’re now seeing the complexity of it too. But with a team determined to get the bitter taste of its NCAA Tournament loss to Duke out of its mouth, there’s no time for the coaches to slow everything down so the new arrivals don’t get lost.
So far, though, that hasn’t been a problem — in fact, they’ve performed above expectations despite having to learn Beilein’s offensive system, notorious for its complexity.
“I’m impressed with how quickly they’re picking things up,” Novak said. “They’re doing a good job with the offense. (Burke’s) really unselfish. I’ve been very impressed with how he’s passed the ball.
“Carlton, his toughness. He’s already taken like five charges in practice. I hadn’t taken five charges at this point my freshman year, so that’s pretty good.”
It’s been a bit of a whirlwind so far for the Wolverines. The team has practiced everyday so far and is using the maximum hours allotted, constituting what Beilein calls his “Club Wolverine” training camp.
Workouts haven’t focused on specific schemes or lineups yet — in fact, Beilein said he’s just trying to figure out a top 10, with 12 players currently in the mix. Instead, they’ve been more about early-season basics, with the torrid pace as a test of Michigan’s conditioning.
But that’s another hurdle that Burke and Brundidge have cleared so far.
“What surprised me the most is (Burke and Brundidge) are out there giving it their all and they’re not giving in to fatigue,” said sophomore guard Tim Hardaway Jr. “People are holding their knees and are tired, but they’re standing up, taking the criticism and taking everything in like a sponge.”
With the sudden luxury of a deep roster, Beilein is hoping that his regulars won’t have to play as much during games this season — instead of 35 minutes, perhaps 28 or 30.
But in order for that to happen, Burke, Brundidge and Bielfeldt will have to give the coaching staff reason to believe they can step in right away. The Wolverine veterans are working to make that a reality.
“Now they’re bonding with the upperclassmen, so that’s always good,” Beilein said. “They’re taking them under their wings and (the freshmen) are listening. I sent my first tweet of the week — ‘The upperclassmen are teaching and the freshmen are all ears.’ It’s what we’re seeing.”